Microsoft Gaming Gets More Social

Beam Acquisition Could Bring Interactive Streaming

It’s August, and you know what that means.

August 2014: Amazon announces the acquisition of Twitch (see Amazon Has Vision with Twitch). We noted then that e-gaming was in the process of becoming a real entertainment venue competing against traditional broadcast content.

August 2015: Google-owned YouTube announces the launch of YouTube Gaming, a competing service to (see YouTube Gaming Goes Live). It was Google’s recognition that e-sports and live streaming in general were becoming a vital play in online content.

August 2016: Microsoft announces that it is acquiring Beam, a start-up from Seattle that develops interactive game-streaming technologies. Beam will be folded into Microsoft’s Xbox unit, which likely means integration into Microsoft’s own gaming platform. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Yesterday’s news of Microsoft’s acquisition of Beam indicates that a competitive environment is brewing in e-sports. Microsoft will be competing against Amazon and Google.

Beam does have a unique angle: it enables viewers to participate in game play. In this way, Beam’s model takes the passive interaction that streaming viewers may be used to from Twitch and YouTube, and adds the ability to interact with the players. For example, a player can allow the audience to participate by selecting a weapon.

On its Web site, Beam claims extremely low-latency broadcasts, something required for such participation. The start-up’s offering uses HTML5 and it’s also mobile-ready.

In its announcement, Microsoft specified the potential of Beam’s technology for two of its titles, Sea of Thieves and Minecraft. These games are already social, making them suitable for Beam. Sea of Thieves allows players to create their own stories by playing co-operatively, and Minecraft enables players to build interactive worlds.

For Microsoft, Beam gives it an immediate way to build its in-house streaming service, perhaps leapfrogging its rivals along the way. Microsoft referred to the coming “convergence between playing and watching”. The company sees this as a trend to grasp.

CCS Insight believes that Beam could turn out to be a valuable asset for Microsoft if it can be used to drive more community interaction among a younger audience. As gaming becomes more social, Beam could be used to blur the lines between being a spectator and being a participant in e-gaming.